During the 2013 draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates took left-handed pitcher Cody Dickson in the fourth round out of Sam Houston State. While the Pirates were scouting him, they no doubt noticed another starter for SHSU that was draft eligible this year. In the sixth round of the 2014 draft, the Pirates took a 6’6″, 220 pound right-hander and signed him quickly for just below slot value.
Tyler Eppler was ranked as the 256th best player in the draft by Baseball America this year. He has a four-pitch mix, with a fastball that reportedly hits 95 MPH, but sits 89-91 MPH. The scouting reports weren’t exactly glowing, saying his curve, slider and change-up all rank as average at best and his fastball lacks life. With a scouting report like that, it was difficult to get excited about the pick, but something happened between those draft reports and the end of the Jamestown season.
Going through pitching stats in the Pirates organization recently, I noticed something very interesting while looking for the lowest WHIP among pitchers with significant inning totals. Eppler threw a total of 68.2 innings in his 14 starts and had an 0.95 WHIP. That was the lowest total among all Pirates pitchers with more than 28 innings. The next best total for a pitcher with a decent amount of innings is the 1.05 mark from Eppler’s teammate Montana DuRapau and there is a big difference in the upside between him and Eppler.
Eppler has some other impressive totals to go along with that WHIP. He had a 2.49 ERA, a 49:11 K/BB ratio and a .213 BAA, including a .201 mark against right-handed batters. His 1.01 GO/AO ratio is decent as well, though the six homers he allowed was the most among Jamestown pitchers. That home run total isn’t exactly high and he finished 12th in the NYPL in innings pitched, tops among Jamestown pitchers, so the homers don’t seem like problem at this point.
Eppler throws a lot of strikes, but he is going to need to miss more bats. His 6.4 SO/9 rate was one of the lowest on the team. A pitcher can get away with a total that low if he is getting ground balls at a strong rate and keeping runners off the bases. There is an example in the system this year of a pitcher having success with a low strikeout rate. Adrian Sampson had a 5.9 SO/9 rate this season and he had a breakout year. He did that as a 22-year-old in AA though, and ended the year with Indianapolis, while Eppler turned 21 back in January. So there isn’t a big difference in age between the two pitchers, but there is a big difference in the level of competition they faced this year. That’s why Sampson will rank high in the updated prospect rankings, while Eppler won’t be too high in the top 50 until he shows something against better competition.
It will be interesting to see if the Pirates let Eppler make the jump to Bradenton next year. In 2013 Adrian Sampson made that jump and struggled, while Chad Kuhl made the jump this season and put together a much better season. Kuhl had a similar season in 2013 to the one Eppler had with Jamestown this year, so that is a good sign for him, but the stats at Jamestown are difficult to judge. The competition in college is a step above the New York-Penn League, especially for the players like Eppler, who were weekend starters. So you expect high draft picks to do well in the NYPL and they usually do. Pirates rarely let any draft pick play higher than the NYPL in their first year, with Jordy Mercer, Matt Hague and Tony Sanchez being the most recent examples of players that went to full-season ball their first year. Letting the draft picks spend the year in the NYPL is basically allowing them to get used to the life in pro ball, more than it is challenging them in the early stages of their career.
Eppler finished his season strong at Jamestown, giving up one run or less in each of his last six starts. In each of his last three starts, he went six innings and gave up three hits. He had a 14:1 K/BB ratio in those 18 innings, showing improvements as the season went on. That is actually really impressive, since he threw 109.2 innings in college this year, meaning he threw a total of 178.1 innings. For comparison sake, the highest innings total among Pirates minor league pitchers this year was 167 from Adrian Sampson.
With a terrific finish, a strong overall season at Jamestown and showing the ability to throw strikes and pile up innings, Eppler could make the move to Bradenton in 2015. He already looks like he could be a strong pick in the sixth round and there could be more upside due to his age and size. The scouting reports weren’t great for Eppler in college this year, but he definitely opened up some eyes his rookie season in pro ball. The Pirates hope they got a steal in the sixth round and the early results look good.
Pirates Game Graph
Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 2.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead. They are 4.5 ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. The Pirates are one game behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates beat the Brewers 4-2 on Friday. Edinson Volquez will pitch game two of the series tonight. He is making his 30th start of the season and fifth against the Brewers. He has a 2.88 ERA in 25 innings against Milwaukee. In his last outing versus the Brewers(Aug 23rd), he allowed two runs over 5.2 innings, giving up a season-high 11 hits. In his start on Sunday, Volquez gave up one earned run over seven innings. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. The Indianapolis season recap and top ten. The Altoona season recap and top ten. Bradenton recap and top ten.
MLB: Pittsburgh (83-70) vs Brewers (79-75) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Edinson Volquez (3.27 ERA, 124:67 K/BB, 178.2 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)
AA: Altoona (61-81)
High-A: Bradenton (78-61)
Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)
Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)
RK: Bristol (22-46)
GCL: Pirates (20-40)
DSL: Pirates (34-36)
With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look at some recent video from the Fall Instructional League. On Friday, we posted a brief recap from Thursday’s action, along with some videos. Below is another video from Thursday’s action. This one is of Jose Osuna, who was ranked #3 on our top ten list for Bradenton this year. In the last 40 games of the 2014 season, Osuna had a .602 slugging percentage and his .509 slugging over the last 62 games was seven points higher than the FSL season leader, teammate Josh Bell.
9/16: Pirates activate Charlie Morton from disabled list.
9/8: Pirates release Ernesto Frieri.
9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.
9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.
9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.
9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list
9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.
This Date in Pirates History
Five former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including a recent All-Star and the Pirates’ only Rookie of the Year.
Jason Bay, left fielder for the Pirates from 2003 until 2008. He was the first Rookie of the Year in team history(2004) and he remains the only one to this day. In 719 games in Pittsburgh, he had an .890 OPS, which ranks as the seventh best in team history. Bay was an All-Star during the 2005-06 seasons.
Randy Kramer, pitcher from 1988 until 1990. He started 18 games and pitched 34 times in relief over his three seasons in Pittsburgh. Kramer was traded to the Cubs late in the 1990 season for minor league pitcher Greg Kallevig, who didn’t play another game after the deal.
Dennis Ribant, pitcher for the 1967 club. He made 22 starts and 16 relief appearances during his only season in Pittsburgh. The Pirates traded Ribant away following the season and reacquired him prior to the 1970 season. He never played in the majors after 1969, pitching in AAA from 1970-73, before retiring.
Vic Lombardi, pitched for the Pirates from 1948 until 1950. Won ten games during the 1948 season. Made 31 starts and 80 relief appearances with Pittsburgh, posting a 4.60 ERA over 373.1 innings
Red Juelich, infielder for the 1939 Pirates. He hit .239 in 17 games during his only season in the majors. Played seven years in the minors.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.